I love self-service checkouts in the same way I love ATMs, ‘pay at the pump’ and airlines’ online check-ins. 

I love self-service checkouts in the same way I love ATMs, ‘pay at the pump’ and airlines’ online check-ins. 

To me they mean efficiency and speed and, as designers continue to make the technologies friendlier, the balance is tipping ever-more firmly in their favour.

We’ve measured progress among BRC members representing two-thirds of all retail spending. One-in-five of their tills is now self-service. Separately, but perhaps more importantly, we’ve asked how contactless and e-payments are developing.

Non-card methods, mainly e-payment systems such as PayPal, were used in 150 million of their transactions last year. That’s £1.2bn of retail sales not made with the credit and debit cards from traditional card-issuing banks that shoppers would previously have used.

All of this has some big implications. Customers’ increasing willingness to use new payment technologies should send a message to the payments industry establishment that their existing charging regimes can’t continue. New players are becoming significant competition for banks’ business, and e-payment is the cheapest non-cash way for retailers to take money.

It really is time for change – lots of change. Retailers taking part in our Cost of Collection survey paid card-issuing banks £500m in swipe fees last year – across the EU, the figure is about e25bn (£19.7bn).

With so much at stake, it’s something the BRC’s been battling on for more than 10 years. But I sense some helpful forces are now pushing firmly in the right direction. We’ve just had a historic and highly significant European Court ruling against MasterCard’s swipe fees on transactions that take place across national borders.

The outcome of the European Commission’s Green Paper on payments is due next month and the payment services and e-money directives are being revised.

Policymakers here need to consider carefully what the implications are for the UK. Yes, decisions taken in this country have to be consistent with what happens at European level. We certainly don’t want any room for challenges of incompatibility later.

And action must be comprehensive, covering cards of all types so banks and card schemes can’t just replace lost revenue streams with others. But none of that should be an excuse for more delay. Cross-border transactions make up only a small percentage of overall retail sales. I look forward to working with the banks to achieve the fairer domestic swipe-card fees that are the real prize.

I’ve just come back from visiting the BRC’s equivalents in the US. Over there, Washington has halved the maximum fees allowed on debit cards from an average 44 cents to 21 cents, thus saving retailers $6bn (£3.9bn) a year – money Congress accepts “most will pass on to their customers through discounts or other value”.

For the sake of customers and retailers here, let’s have no more, ‘unexpected obstruction in the banking area’.   

  • Stephen Robertson, director general, British Retail Consortium